Random header image... Refresh for more!

The Red Car Effect

Has this ever happened to you?

You hear a song on the radio for the first time, and all of a sudden, it’s on every station? Every time you turn on the radio, there’s that song!

Or, you read a book by an author you’ve never heard of, and all of a sudden everybody is talking about that book? Everywhere you look, you see that book and that author?

Or, you buy a car, and all of a sudden, EVERYONE has the same car! You can’t believe how many of that same car you see on the road!

Would you surprised to learn that there’s actually a name for that phenomenon? No, it’s not something catchy, like “déjà vu” or “serendipity” or “synchronicity.” Heck, it’s not even a “coinky-dink.” Nope, this is something a little different called The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. See? I told you it was not a cool name. As a matter of fact, it’s so uncool I can never even remember what it’s called, even though it happens to me all the time!

So, what does that say about the experience if there’s a name for it? To me, it says that it’s more common than I ever imagined.

Contrary to the belief that the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is some amazing “smack of destiny,” it’s really nothing more than a cognitive bias. It’s how we feed our need for order…after all, humans love patterns. We love to find rhyme and reason to randomness. We also like to find explanations for things.

Okay, so why am I talking about this?

Well, Thursday night (during my weekly Tuesday night video confab with The Doc, Connie Stapleton, PhD), I was working through some “life junk” and she “gently” brought a few things to my attention (read: smacked me upside the head in the most firm, but fair way imagineable). Basically, she helped me to find law and order among the chaos; she helped me to see that I was marinating. Yes…she helped me to see that I was experiencing the dreaded emotional marination syndrome. I thought I was doing pretty good, but she helped me to see that I was really just doing backstrokes in the marinade.

So, how can I get out of the pan and towel off?

Well, remember that Baader-Meinhof Pheonomenon I was talking about up there?

Last night, it occurred to me that what I was doing was focusing on the negative in my life. In other words, I was seeing the same (yucky) thing over and over and over. But, why?

Well, imagine seeing a sexy red sports car on the way to work one morning. It’s hard to miss because…well, it just stands out from the other cars. It’s distinctive. It’s memorable. Next thing you know, you’re seeing the same kind of red sports car everywhere you go! It’s in the parking lot next to you; your neighbor just bought one; you’re stuck behind one on the freeway (not that this ever happens to me) – you cannot get away from that red car.

Red car.
Red car.
Red car.

REDCAR

Okay, what do we *know* about red cars?

Well, as anyone worth their salt will tell you (with unshakeable certitude, I might add), red cars “look” like they’re going faster, which means they draw attention from everyone…especially police…thus, if you drive one, you’re more likely to get a speeding ticket. (Trust me, everyone says it). And, if you get more tickets because you drive a red car, then you’re going to pay more insurance. Plus, red cars show the dirt and scratches, and the paint fades (because red is the first color to show its age).

EDUCATIONAL BREAK: Ever wonder why red fades faster than other colors? (I’m not talking about my hair, or anything…after all, it’s natural…) Here’s what the Naked Scientist forum says about it:

Why does red fade faster than all the other colors?

It depends. Yellow also fades, but it’s difficult to detect because if it fades, it will turn to creamy white. So, not much difference is noticeable. All color absorbs wide spectrum or light from the Sun. The sun’s ray is polychromatic, so it consists of all visible and non-visible color. I believe red fades faster because the red color components react by absorbing the blue ray, which in fact has a higher energy so that makes the red color molecules changes (degrades) from time to time.

Blue has shorter wavelength, therefore higher energy. If you see in rainbow’s color spectrum, red is in the complete opposite from blue or violet. From that, we can see that red will be the first “victim” among other visible color. Of course there are many ways to protect, one example is to layer it with highly reflective material and UV protection.

In other words, red seems to fade because it’s more noticeable than the other colors. We focus on the red.

Hmmm…If you’re focused on red cars, then all you will see is RED CARS!

SO, if RED CARS represent negative thoughts (read: stinkin’ thinkin’), and all you see are red cars, then it’s time to change your thinking.

Or…buy a white car.

I know what you’re saying, “But, white cars are so…boring…white cars are actually non-colors! People only white cars because they can’t decide on an actual, real-live color.”

Actually, according to Wikipedia:

EDUCATIONAL BREAK #2: White is the color of fresh milk and snow.It is the color the human eye sees when it looks at light which contains all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum, at full brightness and without absorption. It does not have any hue.

As a symbol, white is the opposite of black, and often represents light in contrast with darkness. According to surveys in Europe and the United States, white is the color most often associated with innocence, perfection, the good, honesty, cleanliness, the beginning, the new, neutrality, lightness, and exactitude.

So, white is light. White is positive. White is a fresh start.

WHITECAR

Let’s think about this in terms of your life. Are you stuck in a traffic jam with nothing but red cars for miles? Is everything in your life going wrong?

Poor me! I can’t catch a break! I hate my job. I’ve regained some weight. I never have time to do what I want to do. My kids are driving me crazy. I am always tired. I’m so depressed. I don’t have any friends. I’m broke.

Red cars. Every (stinking) one of ‘em.

If any of that sounds familiar, it’s time to start LOOKING for white cars on your road.

What are some of the RED CARS causing traffic jams in your life?

Family?
Work?
Health?

How can you trade-in that red car for a white car?  Begin by thinking differently about your circumstances:

RED CAR: I hate my job.
WHITE CAR: I enjoy working with my customers to make them happy.

RED CAR: My child never listens to me.
WHITE CAR: I had a wonderful time playing with my child at the park.

RED CAR: I don’t have any friends.
WHITE CAR: I picked up the phone and called someone I haven’t talked to in ages. It was wonderful.

RED CAR: I’ve regained some weight.
WHITE CARI’ve kept some weight off and, since I lost it once, I can lose it again.

 Here’s the bottom line: Since we live what we focus (on), doesn’t it make sense to focus on positive things?

Would you be surprised to learn that I drive a White Ford Focus? Totally true. I recently traded-in my RED PILOT. Now, how’s that for irony?

Question: What is a RED CAR in your life? What’s a WHITE CAR can you focus on? 

 

For more fun, LIKE A Post-Op & A Doc on Facebook and join us for our Monthly (FREE) APODCast. We’ll help you spot those RED CARS. Vrooom! Vrooom!

 

 

July 12, 2013   1 Comment

The Fallacy of Control

From the Gastric Bypass Barbie vault:
Originally published November 6, 2009.
 

As I reread this, I realize how far I’ve come…how much healthier I am emotionally and physically…how much freer I feel since I’ve cut those ties that bound me. Thanks to some wonderfully supportive friends and a willingness to do whatever it took to get well, I learned that, the first step in being a recovering control freak is to recognize you really control…nothing. My wish for you is this: Let go of your need to control, and watch how much more “in control” you feel…  ~ Cari

The Fallacy of Control

 

I would describe myself as a “recovering control freak with latent OCD tendencies.” The idea of “control” is quite seductive and appealing for a Type-A personality like me. Unfortunately, it’s always tantalizingly out of reach — just around the bend, over the horizon, or in the next “whatever.” Which is why control is such a lie. You see, no one ever really has it — not over situations, or others, but least of all over SELF. I mean, PUHLEASE — Self-Control. What the heck does that mean??? Does it mean that I get to control everything I think and do? Does it mean that, as long as I try hard enough, everything I touch will stay in check? Does it mean that I can actually be the master of time and space?

Not so much.

I spent years misunderstanding the idea of control, and more importantly SELF control. The reality of control is that, despite all best laid plans, intentions, hopes, dreams or preparations, whatever is GOING to happen, will happen. It’s what I DO about it that really gives me CONTROL (limited control, naturally).

I began to learn this painful lesson when my daughter (who will turn 19 on the 16th) was 3. We had dressed her as “Belle” from Beauty & The Beast; she had a lovely golden yellow dress, and cute black patent mary jane shoes, white tights, a plastic pumpkin with a handle (to carry her loot) — and an incredibly intricate undo with about 10,000 bobby pins holding it up, and an entire can of hairspray CONTROLLING every single hair on her head.

She looked ADORABLE….as long as she stood perfectly still. The problem was when she moved. LIke any 3- year-old, she had to RUN to each house. Of course, as her *loving* mother, I *patiently* encouraged her to *take it easy.* I think it went something like this:

HANNAH! Quit running! Stay here! ”
“HANNAH!!! You are MESSING YOUR HAIR UP.”
“HANNAH!!!! Come here so I can fix your hair. NOW!”

Oh my God.

About 3 houses later, it hit me: What the HELL was I doing? I was chasing my 3-year old in a frantic and misguided attempt to CONTROL — her hair. That was my “come to Jesus” moment for sure. At least in THAT arena. I made a solemn vow that I would STOP being so neurotic about things that didn’t matter, (as long as it only pertained to Hannah’s hair, apparently! Everything else was still fair game.)

So, I pulled out the bobby pins and said, “Baby, go have fun.” Which she did.

That might sound like a happy turn of events, but what I didn’t mention is the fact that inside I was boiling over in frustration, filching Snickers and 3-Musketeers from her pumpkin after each house:

Why can’t she just hold still? Her hair looked so beautiful and I spent *so much time* on it? People are going to wonder what kind of a mother I am, sending my kid around looking like such a scruff muffin…”

Parent at door: Oh, don’t you look ADORABLE?! Who are you supposed to be?”

Me: Well, she is Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, but her hair fell. It looked so pretty a few minutes ago. But you now how little urchins can be….”

Okay, that doesn’t sound like a recovered ANYTHING. I just stopped trying to control my kid and tried to control everybody who opened the door!

Fast forward a few years.

We go camping with our friends and family. It’s always a big to-do; a huge — well-organized — affair with exquisitely planned MEALS and events! I always pre-reserve sites, so there won’t be ANY SURPRISES when we get there.

Only…there always ARE surprises. We always end up in a campsite with a big rolling trashcan (the one that everyone in the loop uses for their garbage), or a telephone pole. Our trees are always lacking shade, and the site isn’t level, so we have to sleep rolling downhill. And no one likes to eat when I say it’s time to eat: “Be back in time for dinner!! No later than 7, okay?”

Are you noticing a trend here? A sick pattern?

I was ruining everyone’s time in my endeavor to CONTROL the situation. Instead of just going with the flow — rolling with the punches — I would get bent out of shape, like someone had intentionally hollowed my insides out with a spoon. Nothing to do but EAT to make it feel better. Fortunately, I always had Red Vines, Double Stuff Oreos and BBQ Ruffles potato chips to assuage the pain. There was always plenty of bacon in the morning, extra blueberry pancakes, and s’mores after dinner. There was always room to stuff my frustrations way down so I could “fully enjoy” myself.

The only problem was, I didn’t enjoy myself. I stayed behind in camp while everyone else was off hiking, biking and exploring. I would carefully (and gracelessly) climb down out of the motorhome (trying not to fall and sprain my ankle — for the umpteenth time) and lumber over to my big-butt beach chair. There, I’d pop open my 13th can of Diet Pepsi and flip through one of the 17 gossip magazines I’d brought along for entertainment.

“Look at her — she is WAY too thin! Please! Who looks like that? ‘Lose 10 pounds in 1 week!’ — Are you kidding me? I have to lose 200 pounds…nobody has only ’10 pounds’ to lose. Piffle.”

And on it went, until my family was late returning for dinner — which would allow me to get all worked up. Again. And I’d eat some other junk I’d stashed in the cupboard (like Zingers).

Fortunately, through the help of my very best friend in the entire world (Jan), I began to see the error of my ways. Now, understand that I didn’t realize how cancerous the behavior was to my psyche; I only understood what it was doing to those whom I loved. So, my motivation to correct the crippling behavior was borned from my desire not to hurt OTHERS; It had nothing to do with HELPING myself.

Whatever the case, I made a solemn vow that I would NOT have nuclear meltdowns all over everybody when something didn’t turn out as I’d perfectly planned. If it didn’t “fit my picture” then I’d paint a new one.

Here’s how it looked in application: When we’d roll up to a campground, and the site would be “less-than-perfect,” my initial reaction would always be one of intense unhappiness and frustration. But, rather than letting it ALL out all over everybody, I would stop for a beat, take a deep breath, clench my fists, and announce, “Okay. I’m going to need about X minutes calm down. Just go about your business, and I’ll be with you soon.” The amount of time required to talk myself back away from the ledge would vary, depending upon the “severity” of the campground or situation. If it was “really bad”, I’d need 30 minutes.

Of course, my family members would protest, but I’d tell them that if they wanted me to enjoy myself, they needed to back off until I could come to terms with the situation. They were to “carry on” with their business until I was feeling human again.

So, I’d sit there and talk myself through it. Sometimes, I’d pace. Sometimes I’d stop and grouse. I’d say things out loud, like,

This really SUCKS! I HATE THIS! It’s not FAIR.”
And then, I’d say, “But…it’s okay. It doesn’t fit my picture, so I’ll create a new picture.”

“But I wanted a BEAUTIFUL campsite with a bubbling brook running along side it.”
“But running water brings mosquitoes. It’s better this way.”

Over and over I’d repeat things like, “It doesn’t fit your picture, but it’s going to be okay. No one else saw the picture you painted in your head. Only YOU know what you expected. They had other expectations, but they are fine with the reality. Everyone is having a good time. You need to mellow out so everyone will enjoy themselves. Don’t ruin everyone’s time. Calm down, It’s going to be okay.”

At some point, I’d tell myself I was done being cranky and it was time to move on. Whether or not I actually FELT done was of no consequence. 20 or 30 minutes was sufficient and it was time to grow up, move on and deal with reality.

And so it would go.

When they were late for dinner, I’d just told myself that we’d eat at 10 PM.

It didn’t always work, but it was better than it had been before, and people seemed to have a better time without me raining on their parade like Eeyore.

Of course, what I didn’t do was cope with the reasons behind my discontentment, and I didn’t deal with my reaction to force-feed the bad feelings away. So, during the time I tried to “cure” myself of my crippling negativity, I ballooned to 316 pounds.

And then I had weight loss surgery and I couldn’t eat the lack of control away. I had to find a better tool. I had to realize the error of my ways once and for all. I had to quash those negative feelings dead in their tracks and replace them with truly positive ones. I had to reshape my actions into something healthy, rather than destructive.

Now, I’d love to tell you that I have perfected this art form — but as we all know, perfection is impossible and is a convenient way we set ourselves up to fail. Obviously, if perfection is unattainable, then making that the goal is self-defeating.

Anyway, I haven’t killed the beast of CONTROL, but I have won more battles than I’ve lost. As a matter of fact, up until 2 nights ago, I can’t remember the last time I unwisely decided to cope with my unhappiness by consuming an entire box of Jujubees. I can tell myself that I had a very good reason for eating myself into a post-gastric-bypass-coma. I can tell myself that sleeping in the fetal position all night was the perfect solution to my despair.

But it wasn’t, and everybody knows that.

So, I had a couple of really bad days, and then I awoke this morning, looking forward to my therapy session (Jim will get an earful from me!) and realizing that only I can control my actions.

The bottom line is: I can’t control HOW I feel, but I sure can control what I DO.

So, I’m still a recovering control freak with OCD tendencies. I still try to make things as “perfect” as they can be — but then I step back and let reality take over.

Sometimes, as you can see, I do better than others ;-) Fighting for control, like maintaining a 170 pound weight loss, is a war that is never permanently won. It must be fought anew each day — and maybe even each hour. But, with each victory, comes the knowledge that there is hope and the battle is worth fighting.

March 29, 2013   No Comments

I Just Wasn’t the Person I Wanted to Be

Originally published on GastricBypassBarbie.com in September 2009. 

I Wasn’t Bad. I Just Wasn’t Who I Wanted to Be.

before_small

I have a very, very dear friend (we go back 30 years) who has always been there for me whenever I have needed him. He is the truest sort of friend, because he says what I need to hear precisely when I need to hear it. He was my knight in shining armor when I was young and impetuous, gallantly swooping in to save me from the travails of young adulthood with a cold wine cooler, a soft shoulder and a waiting ear.

Mostly, I think, he saved me from myself.

He never asks for a single thing in return, (which is good, because I cannot imagine a single thing I could do for him), and I always wonder what value he sees in me as a friend. Through it all, he tells me I’m as dear to him as he is to me, and for some strange reason, I believe him.

We “dated” for an entire 3 months when we I was “15-1/2″ and he was 16. We might have lasted longer, had he not lived 20 miles away (in a different area code) and cared so much “more” about soccer and his friends. In other words, he was a typical 16-year old guy.

We had met at Knott’s Berry Farm when I was 13-1/2 and he was 14. I was chunky and going through my ugly duckling phase. He was cute as a button (surfer blond, blue eyes, typical Southern California hottie.) We wrote letters back and forth for awhile, but then that stopped. Remember: This predates unlimited long distance phone calling, email and cell phones, so writing letters was a really big deal.

Time passed and we found ourselves starting high school. I lost my 20 pounds of baby fat over the summer, got my braces off and was sorority-girl cute. I gave him an innocent (yet, scandalous) call, *casually* mentioning my weight loss (and braces, of course!) — I was about as subtle as a heart attack.

He invited me and my friend to meet him at the mall (which we promptly did), and from there, it was an invitation to Knott’s for his birthday, a little smooching and hand holding, and before we knew it, we were boyfriend and girlfriend. (At least for 3 more months.)

It was a fairly amicable breakup and we stayed in touch, constantly flirting with the idea of giving it another go, yet just missing (since one or the other was usually in some sort of a relationship.) The one thing I know is this: he was always there to pick up the pieces from my “failed relationships” and “drama-queen life”, NEVER judged me as my weight began to increase, and always loved me for who I was — even if I didn’t believe him.

Eventually, I met an amazing man whom I would marry, thus, any rumblings of a possible rekindling were roundly silenced forever. My friend graciously DJ’d our wedding reception. and a few years later, when he met an amazing girl, we brought our little 4-year-old to his wedding. Through it all, we managed to keep in touch and fell into a comfortable stride with our friendship.

About 12 years ago, he developed cancer and we very nearly lost him — twice. Thank God he beat it and is still in remission! But, I remember that call from his wife, telling me he was in the ICU at Memorial Hospital — about 5 minutes from my house. I have a hard time admitting this, but I actually hesitated going to see him because I was fat! I seriously contemplated NOT seeing him when he needed me most, all because of my shallow insecurities.

Fortunately, I ignored them and went anyway, and he — in his inimitable fashion — complimented me on how great I looked.

Typical Mike.

After that, it was more pounds and fewer visits. At one point, we met for lunch — but I brought my daughter along as a distraction. His email to me that afternoon was “you looked beautiful, as always.” Even though I’d warned him that I was “really heavy,” he insisted that it wasn’t the outside that mattered; he loved me for who I WAS and NOT what I look like.

I tried to believe him, but how could I believe him when I didn’t believe myself? If I didn’t think I was beautiful, how could anyone else? I was convinced the cancer had affected both his vision and sense of reason.

That lunch was about 4 years ago. In the ensuing years, I’ve had 4 surgeries, lost my weight, rebuilt my body, and learned to live life as a thin person. He’s been one of my biggest champions — cheering me on with every updated picture I’d send. All the while, he continued to tell me that, though he was immensely proud of my success, I was no more beautiful now than I ever was before. Again, I doubted his ability to think clearly.

So, today he asked me about my before and after pictures — you know, the ones where I’m standing in one leg of my fat pants? Interestingly, I haven’t actually TAKEN that one yet, but I told him that I thought my befores were “icky” and they really bothered me. I told him they made me want to cry when I saw them.

He replied that he didn’t like his cancer pics either — especially when he was purple from head to toe and bald, to boot. But he still looks at them to reinforce the fact that he is no longer in that situation. He does not like to look at them, but he uses them as reminders of what his life could still be like. He says it reminds him to be happy now that he is no longer that other person.

But, he didn’t leave it at that.

He continued:

Sweetheart:
Be very proud of yourself today,
but do not believe that what you were was bad.
It was just not who you wanted to be.
And you were never not loved,
no matter what you looked like.
Trust me on this one.

The words are so powerful, yet so simple:

I was not bad. I just wasn’t the person I wanted to be.
I was always loved, even when I didn’t believe it.

I guess it’s time for me to stop hating that morbidly obese girl I once was.

She was neither unlovable nor unloved.
She just wasn’t the person I wanted to be.

I will strive to remember those precious words every day; especially as I fight to be the person I have become, while learning to love the person I once was.

March 21, 2013   3 Comments

Easier or Stronger?

544368_110285315825337_1285806903_n

I saw this on Facebook this morning and it resonated with me. Yesterday was a rough day, and I remember thinking, “I just need to get through this because I don’t like it. What is the lesson I’m supposed to learn from this? I’m ready. I want to learn and I want to be stronger because I know this will come again.”

In this case, I chose to “Phone a friend” and, though she couldn’t fix the situation for me, she did show me great compassion and reminded me that I had the strength to do it myself. She let me know that I knew how to survive (solve) the situation (problem).

In the past, I might have said, “Why me?” or “Make it stop!” But, I’ve learned that this type of thinking doesn’t move me forward, and only puts me in the position of getting to repeat the life lesson over and over until I learn it! Now, I really don’t like “Karmic” situations (especially when the bank is involved), so I prefer to look at this through the lens of “Problems I can solve by using proper formulas.”

Let’s think about it in terms of numbers and letters.

Math problems can be hard until you learn how to solve them:

  • “Anything times zero is zero”
  • “Reduce to the lowest common denominator”
  • “Follow the order of operations”
  • “Standard Deviation is a way to tell approximately how much of the data will cluster around the mean.”

OOOPS. That last one was kinda hard.

Don’t like math? How about words? Grammar can be hard, if you don’t know the rules:

  • “I before E, except after C.”
  • “Chickens lay eggs; people lie down.” I’d be lying if I said I laid an egg.
  • “Don’t end a sentence with a prepositional phrase.” I wonder where that rule came from?
  • “ER not RE, unless you live someplace funny where they like to switch the letters, substitute ‘S’ for ‘Z’ and add an unnecessary ‘U’ after ‘O…”

Ignore that last one if you live below the equator or you have pictures of a royal family on your credenza.

But, back to the point: Once you know the secret (the formula), you can beat the situation (solve the problem) – or, at least, make it more manageable.

You know, I think math and grammar rules are useful in everyday life. Like…it’s good to put others before ourselves: “Connie and I went to the store.” Not “Me and Connie went to the store.” (We before me, including he, she and thee?)

It’s good to understand the order of operations, to solve one part of the problem first and then simplify to the lowest common denominator. “I eat too much and I am fat.” Let’s solve that problem with the order of operations: “I want to lose weight, so the first thing to do is determine what I’m eating and formulate a healthy eating program. Next, I need to purchase those foods and learn proper portions. Finally, I need to eat my breakfast, pack my lunch, and plan a healthy dinner.”

But, all of that can still seem hard, particularly when we get a little over-possessive and selfish about thing’s. We want what we want when we want it and we don’t care what anyone thinks. It can be really hard to get out of our own way – but that’s precisely the time we can do something for someone else. If we put others’ wants before our own, our own wants can seem less significant.

• • •

I have a feeling you’re not feeling what I’m saying here.

Okay…let me take a big step backward and return to the original thought behind this post: Do I want it to be EASIER or do I want to be STRONGER?

We’ve discussed that, in order to do something, it’s best to know the rules and understand how to solve problems. Each time we master a problem, it can be easier to solve next time – or, at least we are more confident in our ability to do it (and, as I have learned from Dr. Connie Stapleton, self-efficacy is critical to our self-worth and self-esteem. I believe her.)

How often have you heard yourself say, “Why is this so hard?” Especially when thinking about weight loss and weight management. Well, I think it comes down to perspective.

  • A knife can be really sharp and sometimes, we get cut. Do we really want that knife to be dull (so it can’t even cut milk), or, do we want to know how to safely and correctly USE that knife to accomplish what we need to do?
  • A propeller on an airplane can hurt you if you walk into it, but do you really want those blades to stop spinning, or do you want to learn to steer clear of the blades so the plane can take you where you want to go?
  • A chain saw can be really noisy and really dangerous – if you don’t know how to use it – but, do you really want to cut those logs for your fireplace with a hand saw?
  • Does it make sense to drive nails with a high-heel shoe, just so you won’t whack your thumb with a hammer?

(Okay, let’s ignore that last one because, I really don’t see anything wrong with it.)

The point of all this is, we can look at life as a bunch of hard problems that we can’t solve. Or, we can look at it as a series of problems we can solve, if we know the formulas and rules, know how to use the tools, and believe we can succeed.

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to slice a turkey with a plastic spoon just because I think it might be safer (ever broken one of those sporks and cut your cagina? It would take too long, be inefficient, and frustrate me to no end.

Think that example was too easy? How about this: I don’t want weight management to be easy, or I will take it for granted and not be proud of my accomplishments. Oh boy, that one sounds really suspicious and doesn’t involve plastic utensils.

Look, I get it…we all want the Bariatric After Life™ to be easy — but if it were easy, what would that do for our self-worth?

Here’s what I know: I want to get stronger when I exercise and I want to feel better by making healthy food choices. I want to know I can deal with stressful situations at work (or at the bank). I want to feel good and strong and that’s not going to happen by running away from problems, ignoring the rules, not asking how to solve the problem in the first place, or not believing I can do it.

Ultimately, we all know that life is challenging and sometimes not a whole of fun. Sometimes we just want to plop into a corner and wait for it to all go away. But, it won’t go away – it will be there when our butt falls asleep because we were sitting on the hard floor, and it will be there when we get up and our legs tingle because the blood is returning to our feet – AND – it will be there whether or not we want it to be.

The question is: “What are you willing to do to get through those inevitable hard times?”

  • Are you willing to ask for help from those who have mastered the problem (are successfully living a life in recovery from obesity?)
  • Are you willing to follow the “order of operations” and do what you need to do face the challenges?
  • Are you willing to say, “I don’t want it to be easier – I want to be stronger?”

Only you can answer those questions, but for me? I hate being uncomfortable and repeating the same “mistakes” over and over and over. If I know certain things are going to happen, my job is to find a way to get through it so I can get over it.

As I used to tell my daughter, Hannah (she hated this): You can stop running into the wall because it hurts, or you can stop running into the wall because it’s not smart to run into the wall. Either way, just stop running into the wall.

The moral of that story is, life doesn’t have to be as challenging as we make it, if we are willing to learn the rules and solve the problems.

  • Know the rules.
  • Use the tools.
  • Solve in order of operations.
  • Have your friend on speed dial.
  • Ask for help.
  • Believe in yourself.

2+2 will always be 4 and there is no 29st of February (Not even in New Zealand…that’s for you, Sine).

What do you think? Are you running into the wall or are you looking for a solution to get beyond it? Leave me a comment below with your thoughts.

March 2, 2013   1 Comment

Making the Grade: Are you afraid to fail?

I don’t know about you, but I was never a very good test-taker in school. At the time, I was convinced that it was because I just wasn’t able to remember things as well as people like my brother, who often bragged that he could ace any test without even trying or studying.

I now know that my perception of test-taking was horribly flawed by misbeliefs and misperceptions.

show_your_work

Ironically, I was always in advanced classes (except in math), and typically got A’s and B’s. In elementary school, I was in a “mixed class,” where they combined first and second graders in the same room. I was always watching (studying) the second grade curriculum, rather than the first grade curriculum, because I believed that I had already learned everything they could teach me in first grade, when I was in private school for Kindergarten!

I believed I was smarter than all of the first graders.

I had this belief about a lot of things in grade school. My best friend was about a year older than me, so when we went to camp or Sunday School, my mom would always “weedle” to get me into the class with the older kids. I assigned myself as my friend’s protector. And this worked, (until I was in fifth grade and she was in sixth), when she found a new best friend her own age and I was suddenly lost. I was out of a job.

In junior high, there were new friends to make (and protect), only…a lot of these friends were smarter than me. They were GOOD at math and I wasn’t. Though I continued to be in advanced classes, “they” always seemed to have an “easier” time of it. They never seemed to have to work hard at it and things just came naturally.

By the tender age of 13, I had mastered the art of comparison, and if there had been a class in it, I’d surely have scored an “A” – not for achievement, but for “absorbed,” because I was consumed by my own deficiencies.

By high school, the pattern was set. There were always others who were smarter, better, brighter, prettier, faster, more artistic, more accomplished, or richer. I was in AP (Advanced Placement) classes with “very smart” people who “got” A’s and passed the AP tests (which meant they were well-qualified to earn scholarships to prestigious universities.) Meanwhile, I struggled to maintain B’s and C’s and did not take the AP tests. My friends “got” 1300+ on their SAT’s; I earned a little under 1100. I lied to myself for years about my score because I could stand the thought of being viewed as average – or stupid. By “failing” the SAT, I believed that I had failed the ultimate test: LIFE.

So, here’s the point of that characterization:

From the time I was young, I believed (through various pieces of misinterpreted empirical evidence) that things were just “easier” for others and that scoring well on tests was largely a matter of luck. I believed that test-taking was a skill I just didn’t possess. I believed that letter grades on the top of my papers were a direct representation of my value as a person. As the grades dropped, so did my self-worth. I began to take what I got because I figured it represented my true value.

After high school, I began to surround myself by people who were “less intelligent” so that I could feel superior without even trying. If they called me on it, I would simply say that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and if they had a problem, it was there fault. In other words, if they weren’t making the grade, it was on them.

Just think, I “learned” all of this from a fear of taking tests.

I’m sitting here asking myself, “Why didn’t someone set me straight?” Oh sure, people told me how smart I was, and how I wasn’t living up to my potential – but they said that to my brother, too, and he got straight A’s. In other words, he was brilliant and a genius, yet he was told he could do better. Compare that to my self-view, and you end up with a person who couldn’t do or be better if she tried.

It only took me about 40 years to figure it out, but as my father always said, “Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will have no other.” (Yeah, that confused me for a long time, too, but I understand it now and this “fool finally learned what dad was always saying:

If you want to succeed at anything in life, you have to….

  • Want it.
  • Prepare for it.
  • Study for it.
  • Commit to it.
  • Believe you can do it.

For the first 40 years of my life, I can say that I “wanted it”…but that is where my plan for success ended, and that is why I did not achieve the success I claimed to want!

Fast forward to my Bariatric After Life.™

People often tell me that managing my weight is just “easier” for me and that I am “lucky” to have lost as much as I did. They tell me they are terrified of regain and failure, something I will “never” have to worry about.

Well I say, weight management is like anything else in life. Look at it as a series of tests, if you want, but the thing is, it has NOTHING to do with luck or ease and everything to do with preparation, commitment and thebelief that you can do it.

If living a healthy life were like a test, what would I have to do to score a good grade on it?

  1. I would have to know (be prepared for) what is going to be on the test. Good teachers always give you a syllabus at the beginning of the course and tell you what to study. They give you a list of books and materials that you’ll have to read in order to do well in the class, and they’ll often give you a study guide. Hey, in spelling, you get the answers in advance! In other words, I’m going to need to know what is expected of me.
  2. I will have to do the assigned work (studying, reading, answering questions, writing essays) to prepare for the test. People don’t have a “testing gene” in their DNA; they aren’t genetically wired to somehow now how to ace tests. They might have an aptitude or predisposition for being able to learn quickly and understand what will be expected of them – but they aren’t psychic. In other words, even pop quizzes aren’t really total surprises. No, if you’ve been paying attention, you already know what’s on the quiz.
  3. I have to want it badly enough to ask questions when I don’t understand something, and I have put in the time and effort required to do the work. I can’t just give up when it gets hard or confusing.
  4. I have to believe I can pass the test. If I have done the work, asked the questions, and know what the test is about, I must believe that I am ready to pass it – not because I am lucky or smarter, but because I am prepared.
  5. I have to take the test. This is no time for fear. I can’t be worried about failure here…it’s time to succeed.

Thoughts about tests.

There are lots of different kinds of tests: Pop Quiz, Essay, Multiple Choice (otherwise known as “Multiple Guess), Fill in the Blank, Verbal, and True/False (just to name a few). We took those tests in school and still take them in life. The difference is, we don’t get a letter grade on the top of our paper – but we do know when we come up with the wrong answer! I used the word “wrong” on purpose. That’s because we are familiar with the terminology of tests: You’re Right or Wrong; You Passed or Failed – and it was either Incomplete or complete. When you miss something, you get a check mark, and when you do well, you get a gold star or a happy face. Right?

Well, I believe that many of us have applied what we think we learned in school on tests to what we think we know about life: We’re right or wrong. We pass or we fail. We give up because we are afraid we’ll miss one of the questions…which earns us an incomplete.

Hmmm…why are we afraid to miss a question on the test? Isn’t that how you learn? Didn’t your teacher give you the right answer when you answered incorrectly? Didn’t you learn that getting something wrong enables you to get it right next time? What about those math tests…show your work! Why? So the teacher can show you where you went off track – and give you partial credit!

You know, I think we should show our work on our life tests. I think we should not look at life as a series of passes (successes) or failures; rights or wrongs, trues or falses…we should look at life as a series of lessons. When we learn that something doesn’t work, we need to change our answer for the next time that same question shows up in life. We need to build upon the work we are doing – the studying and preparation – so that we can advance, move up, learn more…succeed at life.

Life is full of tests – but you don’t have to feel unprepared for them. You already know the answers (or have enough knowledge to figure them out) because life is the best teacher of all – if you’re willing to learn.

Here’s the bottom line for me: When I didn’t do well on tests, it was because I didn’t study or prepare; I didn’t learn from my incorrect answers…I didn’t ask questions, because I thought I should already know the answers. I didn’t do well on essays because I didn’t believe I knew enough about the question to answer, and the 50/50 chance of the true/false often felt like 90/10 (false!)

I’ll end with this true story from 10th Grade AP History.

Our teacher, Mr. Wyatt, was a great instructor who was passionate about the subject of history. He loved watching his students succeed and gave us all the opportunity to do well in his class. We got study notes, knew what would be on the tests, and were encouraged to ask questions.

Now, here’s the unique part: His tests always featured a “correction factor” because he knew that, not all tests are perfect, he might not have covered a certain topic thoroughly enough in our class and, that people can misinterpret meanings.

The correction factor was equal the highest grade in each class, so if someone scored a 93/100, that person would earn the factor of 7 and get a 100/100; everyone else would get 7 points added to their score. This was a great system, but many of us hoped that the highest grade in the class would be low so we’d get a higher correction factor added to our grade!

It’s funny, really, because we still missed what we missed, but it was just easier to blame the “smart person” in the room.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like to read my history book (it was big and wordy) and AP History was 6th period for me, which was immediately after 5th period lunch – so I always fell asleep and Mr. Wyatt always kicked my chair to gently “nudge” me awake. Did I mention my brother was one of his favorite students four years earlier? Did I mention that the semester final contained 200 multiple choice questions? Did I mention that anyone who could miss 100% of the questions would score 100% on their paper (thus, eliminating the correction factor)? Did I mention that one guy got exactly one right on the final exam? That took guts and needless to say, he scored a 1/200…well, the correction factor was 13…so he really got 14/200 – clearly, not an A.

The moral of the story? Life has a correction factor…if we look for it. And that’s a good thing. We can pass the tests that come our way – even if we don’t get a “perfect” score on our paper, a big red “A+” on page one, or a gold star at the top. We can learn when we get it wrong, and we can encourage others to do well.

The Bariatric After Life is not a pop quiz. We don’t have to fear the test; we can welcome it as a new opportunity to learn where we can do better. Ultimately, we must believe that we have the answers to the questions, or have what it takes to figure it out. We are prepared (or are preparing) to pass the test. There are no letter grades here, and the only “fail” is the one you put on your own paper. You won’t get in trouble if you ask your neighbor for help here, but it’s best to ask the teacher. The correction factor is as big or small as you make it, but at the end of the day, you have to BELIEVE that you can succeed at maintaining a healthy life.

Remember to show your work – partial credit counts!

February 18, 2013   1 Comment

If the motor home isn’t on fire, what’s so alarming?

image63985

Look! It’s pink.

I don’t know if it’s the fresh air, the crashing waves, or the unbelievable chill in the air, but I awoke after only 4 hours of sleep and couldn’t go back to bed. After debating my predicament for a moment, I decided to make the most of my morning by doing some quiet reading and contemplation…after I made a cup of tea. And so, I set about boiling the kettle on my little three-burner motor home stove, and all was right with the world.

Until the smoke alarm went off.

  • Did I mention that Connie is still asleep?
  • Did I mention that we got to bed at 3:00 AM after an extremely full and productive day of personal growth, invigorating exercise and productive planning?
  • Did I mention that it was 7:00 AM?

Needless to say, in the quiet of a motor home, a screeching smoke alarm does its job brilliantly, and I was immediately on high alert to battle the apparent fire.

Only…there wasn’t a fire.
There were no flames.
There was no smoke.
Heck, the heater wasn’t even on.

What, in the world was going on?
Why was that blasted smoke alarm screaming at me?
Naturally, I did what I always do in these situations: I overreacted, mildly cursed under my breath…and ripped the blasted thing out of the ceiling…battery and all.

Trust me when I say — THAT smoke alarm will never do that to me again.

Until I put it back up on the ceiling and press the reset button.

Okay, so why am I telling you about my adventure with the smoke alarm?

Hang with me, because you are not going to believe where I’m going with this…

In order for me to continue, I must give you a little backstory…history, if you will. Some tidbits about my “recent past.”

Last night, I tried to burn the motor home down by innocently igniting my flexible, plastic cutting mat (which had, unbeknownst to me, fallen onto the stove grate, atop the burner, which was (at that very moment), heating water for Connie’s hot chocolate.

  • Imagine my surprise when I beheld the open flame of the mat.
  • Imagine my shock when I heard Connie saying, “MexiKen told us where the fire extinguishers were. Remember? He went over this with us yesterday. He clearly told us what to do in case of emergency!”

Unbeknownst to Connie, I knew exactly where all three of the extinguishers were (under the sink, beside the swivel chair by the door, and behind the driver’s seat in the cab.) Equally unknown to her is the fact that I have virtually no idea how to use a fire extinguisher…which is why I smartly (and expertly, I might add) removed the offensive flaming plastic from the fire, put it in the sink, turned on the faucet and extinguished the threat. Except for the glop of plastic, still burning brightly on the grate. After unsuccessfully attempting to wipe it off with a paper towel (?!), I smartly wet a dish towel and placed it atop the inferno. Problem solved and we returned to the business of making hot chocolate.

Only…why hadn’t the smoke alarm gone off? Shouldn’t the smoke alarm have gone off???

Oh well (I said), I guess it wasn’t a big enough fire to worry about.

And that was the end of it.

Until this morning…when I remind you of the incident with the previously uncooperative smoke alarm.

Now, here is the lesson (which surely must apply to the Bariatric After Life somehow). After pondering the reason behind the smoke alarm’s alert this morning, I realized what had happened: I had turned on the burner to heat the kettle of water, and in the process, reheated some residual melted plastic on the burner. The smoke alarm was responding to the perceived threat of the burning plastic. Actually, it was overreacting TODAY to something that happened YESTERDAY.

Does that make sense? It was going off in the present because of something that happened in the past.

Hmmm…this sounds a heck of a lot like some of my reactions to things in life. Could it be that I sometimes overreact to things now that are really not about now at all? Am I like the smoke alarm, screaming that there’s a huge fire, when in reality, it’s just a little hot plastic…in other words, something inconsequential that won’t amount to anything? Am I trying to fix things today that I didn’t fix before?

Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?

I’ve decided that, next time I feel ALARMED about something, I’m going to see if I can take a moment to decide if it really WARRANTS that level of response. In other words, like I did in the kitchen, as long as I know where the fire extinguishers are in my life, I don’t have to immediately run to them…I can calmly decide if a wet dishtowel will do the job and then move on with the business of drinking my tea.

I think there’s a lesson in there for all of us, don’t you? What happened in the past really can affect what you do in the present. It’s up to you to decide if your response is appropriate, or…overly alarming!

January 13, 2013   7 Comments

What Are You Afraid Of?

What Are You Afraid Of?

I mean it. What. Are. You. Afraid. Of?

At first blush, you might offer up the obvious things: heights, spiders, tight spaces, dying — but you might have to dig a little deeper to come up with those other (deep-seated) fears…like fear of FAILURE or fear of SUCCESS. Of course, those are nebulous things…deep concepts…not really tangible — until you tie specific events to them. Like: Fear of Failure…because of weight regain. Or, Fear of Success…because you get promoted to a job you’re not sure you can do.

Alright, now we MIGHT be getting somewhere, but I’m still not convinced.

I’m gonna keep digging:

WHAT
ARE
YOU
AFRAID
OF
?

Why does it matter? A lot of us can quickly say what we THINK we’re afraid of, but the reality is, we’re probably afraid of something ELSE. Which brings me to the idea of this post. You see, I’ve been struggling with lots of things lately. Life just isn’t…easy — not that anyone ever promised it would be, but somehow, I always convince myself there will be a manageable “ebb and flow” to things; a sort-of “give and take,” where I get to recover between the shovelfuls of dirt that keep getting dumped upon me. I keep thinking I’ll be able to climb out of the hole whenever I want, but I keep digging, and with each shovelful, I’m convinced I’ll be buried alive. Sometimes, when you can’t see the top of the hole, you begin to fear that you have no options. You convince yourself there is no way out. You become entirely consumed with terror. Why? Because your FEAR TELLS YOU TO.

I know I’m not actually buried — not in dirt anyway — so…what am I afraid of?

  • Am I afraid I can’t handle the pressure? Nope. Too nebulous.
  • Am I afraid I can’t keep up with the pace? Nuh-uh. Very vague.
  • Am I afraid I can’t live up to my own expectations? Lovely, but fuzzy.

If those aren’t my fears, I guess I’m gonna dig a bit deeper.

What is driving this panic? Why do I feel I’m going to suffocate? Why do I fear I will collapse under the weight of it all? Ahhh…I think I’ve hit upon something: I am afraid because I am afraid. Of what, exactly? Being buried alive? No, that’s not the fear. What is it??? Right now, I am afraid of something…NAMELESS…which, for some inexplicable reason, makes it even scarier.

Could it be that if I don’t know what I’m actually afraid of, then my fear is bigger than what I’m actually afraid of? Yes, I think I’m onto it…I’ve uncovered something big and here are the two treasures I have dug up:

  1. Fear only has as much power as I give it.
  2. I give fear power when I don’t give it a name.

Well then — it’s time to render my fears powerless and give them names. Ready? (Careful, they’re scary…)

  1. I am afraid of not meeting impossible deadlines at work.
  2. I am afraid that if I don’t meet those impossible deadlines at work, I will be accused of untrue things.
  3. I am afraid that if I am accused of untrue things, I will lose my job.
  4. I am afraid that if I lose my job, I won’t be able to find another one.
  5. I am afraid that if I can’t find another job, I will be broke.
  6. I am afraid of being broke.

Wow. Just take a look at those (until now) unnamed fears! They are real monsters — terrifying monsters — and they have been feeding upon each other AND ME! Well, not anymore, because you see, they now have names, and I have removed their power by reframing my thoughts and actions.

Here’s how that looks:

OLD: I am afraid of not meeting impossible deadlines at work.
NEW: I am only responsible for the effort I put forth to meet impossible deadlines; I cannot guarantee anything that is beyond my control; I am responsible for myself and my actions.

OLD: I am afraid that if I don’t meet the deadlines, I will be accused of untrue things.
NEW: I can be accused of untrue things even IF I meet deadlines because I do not have control over what other people think of me. I am responsible for my own behavior.

OLD: I am afraid I will lose my job.
NEW: I could lose my job for a number of reasons and none of them might have anything to do with me or my effort! The business could dry up; we could lose clients; the owner could decide to shut the doors. I am not responsible for anything other than doing the best job I can do (perfectionism, be damned! There is no room for that here…)

OLD: I am afraid I won’t find another job.
NEW: If I lose my job, I will work very hard to find another job — which may not be easy – but I found this job, and I could find another, if I had to.

OLD: I am afraid I will be broke…and I am afraid of being broke.
NEW: I could be broke, but I would find a way to survive. It would be a challenge, but I am made of better stuff. Would it be scary? Absolutely…the unknown often is — until it becomes KNOWN.

The bottom line is, our level of fear is often disproportionate to the size of the things we actually fear, usually because we don’t define them, or we run from them. And that’s the pits. But, by FACING our fears, we learn just how deep a hole we’re in and what it will take to get out. Basically, we learn what we’re made of, and where our strengths lie when we name our fears. Hey, this stuff isn’t easy. It’s downright scary, and it’s hard, and just knowing what we fear doesn’t make the fear go away. I understand, but that is where courage begins.

Courage is, by definition, facing your fear, but doing it anyway.

So, I ask again: WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

If you don’t know, it’s time to figure it out, because that’s the only way to wrap your arms around it and strategize your survival and recovery.

Need help? Think about Little Red Riding hood — innocently skipping through the woods with a basket of goodies for her grandma. Now, think about what happens when she gets there — she meets the wolf, but tries to convince herself it’s grandma. Silly girl! Instead of facing her fears, she pretends they don’t exist (which is pretty scary, if you ask me), and I kinda think that pretending something isn’t what it is isn’t any better than pretending something is what it isn’t. Did you follow that? If LRRH faced her fear head on, she wouldn’t have gotten eaten by the wolf, likewise, if we spend our lives thinking there’s a wolf around every corner, then we’re just eating ourselves!

Phew! That was very, very deep. But, I don’t want to leave you buried without a shovel — so here are a few things to unearth:

  • Are you giving power to your unnamed fears?
  • Do you think your fear has “bigger teeth” and “bigger eyes” than it really does?
  • Do you believe you can face and beat your fears?

Not sure? Sit with yourself for a bit and figure out what scares you. I mean, what really scares you — not the easy stuff — the tough stuff. Write it down. Say it out loud. Tell someone you trust. Hear the words. Understand the fear. Know where it comes from and if it’s as big as you really fear it is then, plan your way out of the hole. Determine what you can influence, and what you can’t; what you are responsible for, and what you aren’t. What you can live with, and what you can’t. There will be some things you can’t fight — I understand that — but you can definitely minimize their power over you…if you turn and face them. I believe that with all my heart.

Fear not, my friend. You can do this — Just keep digging, you’ll get to the heart of the matter soon enough!

November 28, 2012   4 Comments

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, Don’t Be Mean About What You Say

Say What You Mean
Mean What You Say
Don’t Be Mean About What You Say

Words are incredibly powerful.

They can be used for healing or for hurting.
They can be helpful or they can be harmful.
They can be used as weapons or as olive branches.
They can be understood and misunderstoodused and misused.

Words are used to convey emotions, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs.

To others.
To ourselves.

I spend a lot of time thinking about words. I’d say 95% of my day (if not more) is consumed by the processing of words. I process words in emails that I write to friends, coworkers and business associates, and I process words that I text, post or tweet. I process words that I speak, and I process words that I hear and read.

I ponder over the meanings of words — overt and covert, intentional and unintentional, serious and funny — in my own messages and thoughts, those written or spoken to me, and those written or spoken for no one in particular.

Sometimes, I wonder if people really know what they are saying? I like to THINK they know, but the reality is, they probably don’t, and I like to THINK they want OTHERS to think they know, and I’d go even further to say that what they THINK are saying really isn’t what they are saying.

Confused, yet?

Let me try and make it clear, because I think that what I’m trying to say would fit neatly into something that Dr. Connie Stapleton taught me called the Johari Window. In my study of life, I was aware of three of the panes (what I know about myself, what others know about me, what I share about myself), but not the fourth (what isn’t known by anyone). Now that I AM aware, life looks much different.

Let me see if I can do a better job of explaining it to you:

Basically, there are 4 “parts” to each of us: Our Private self, Hidden self, Unknown self and Blind self. It’s pretty easy to understand the private and hidden selves, for they are what we know about ourselves and choose either to show the world, or hide. The other window panes are a bit trickier because they represent selves others know or no one knows.

Johari Window

Why am I talking about pictures when my opening comments were about words?

Well, think about this for a moment: Our friends look through the same 4 panes as we do, although we are not familiar with at least two of them. So, when we speak, it’s to the public or blind person and we choose our words accordingly. It’s pretty easy to speak to someone in familiar terms, addressing them as they want others to know them, but much more challenging to point out areas where the other person is completely unaware.

Now, imagine the person to whom you are speaking is YOU. Hmmm…We speak to the person we want the world to believe we are, and we speak to the person we believe we are (but hide from the world), but that leaves two panes unaddressed: The blind pane (things we don’t know about ourselves) and the unconscious or unknown pane (things no one knows about us, even ourselves.)

Do we speak to our hidden person as kindly as we speak to another person’s blind spots? Do we speak to our public selves in honest terms, or do we lie to keep up an image?

This is where words matter most. There are kind words and mean words, and two of the words I use mostly frequently when speaking to myself are: OUGHT and SHOULD – especially during the holidays.

I hear myself telling myself:
You SHOULD work out more to compensate for the Halloween candy you SHOULDN’T have eaten.
Of course, you SHOULDN’T eat the candy in the first place, but if you buy it, you OUGHT to hand it out at the door.

You SHOULD buy a Christmas present for that person. You OUGHT to cook Thanksgiving dinner like you always do. You SHOULD hang a wreath on the door and decorate for the holidays. You SHOULD have started your Christmas shopping early. You SHOULD call your brother and your mother more often, especially during this “blue” season. You OUGHT to be a better friend. You SHOULD have gotten up earlier this morning. You OUGHT to know better than to bring home a whole sugar free pie.

And on and on.

SHOULD and OUGHT to.

Fortunately, as I explore my recovery from obesity further, I am learning to reframe my inner dialogue to exclude the shaming words, which sounds something like this:

OLD: You SHOULD work out more to the eat the candy you SHOULDN’T have eaten.
NEW: I can choose to work out today and I can choose to pass on the candy. If I choose the candy, I am responsible for the repercussions. If I don’t want to pass candy out at the door because it is too great a temptation, it’s okay. I don’t have to. But, I must accept the consequences.There are no rules that say I must have bowls of candy to give to trick-or-treaters, but there are no rules that say I have to buy it, either.

OR THIS: You CAN buy Christmas presents for people, and if you CAN’T afford it, you can always make a thoughtful card. You CAN have your family over for dinner another night; it doesn’t have to be on Thanksgiving. It’s OKAY to go camping — but call your mother. It’s OKAY that you didn’t call your friend yesterday; call her NOW. It’s okay that you didn’t work out this morning, go to the gym tonight.

Ultimately, I view it as negotiation. In speaking to myself, what is my goal? Resolution or condemnation? If you think of it in terms of speaking to a child, when you ask them to do a task, are you asking with the goal of accomplishing something (clean your room, make your bed, empty the cat box), OR, are you being critical: You SHOULD clean your room; it’s a pigpen. You OUGHT to wash your bedsheets because they haven’t been washed in months! The cat box stinks; you SHOULD think about how other people feel when they have to smell it.

Different tone, don’t you agree? If we speak like that to others, how do we feel when we speak to ourselves like that???

Without going much deeper, this is what I want you to hear:

  • LISTEN to what you are saying.
  • Speak to yourself with kindness and purpose; there is no room for blame and shame.
  • Learn more about the person you hide from the world by asking respectful questions.
  • Encourage trusted friends to speak to the self you don’t know.
  • Do your best to know yourself better.

Ultimately, choose your words carefully; if they don’t sound like something you would tell another person, consider whether it needs to be said at all.

October 26, 2012   4 Comments

Why Does it Matter, Anyway…?

People get themselves worked up into a lather over the oddest things. I know, I do. For example, just last night, *someone in my house* got cranky because I put recyclable bottles in the non-recyclable trash can. Big deal, right? I mean, *I* thought that it would be easy enough to sort when it was emptied, but unfortunately, my belief was not shared by *someone else* in my house (who shall remain nameless), so we both got prickly about it.

In the past, I’d have marinated about this and probably even gone to bed mad (!) but, THIS TIME, rather than stewing over it, I did something different – (a skill I’ve been working on for about a year, by the way): I calmly sat down and rationally thought about the situation. (Gasp!) Guess what happened? I realized that I was making a federal case over…plastic bottles. Yes. Plastic bottles. And, yes, I know one could argue that *someone else* was doing the same thing, but that’s only when seen through my own prism of self-importance. See, I was getting overheated about…EMPTY BOTTLES…and perhaps there’s a metaphor there: The bottles were empty, and so was my anger.

(Profound, don’t you think?)

So, once I saw the emptiness of my anger, I took a deep breath and came up with a solution to the problem — not that it was a problem for me, mind you, but since it was a problem for *someone I actually love in the house,* it needed a solution. Just what did I do? No, I did not go onto Facebook and status about it (LOL) — I put a recycling bag by the trashcan so that, in the future, I can “sort-on-the-fly.” (Revolutionary!) Now, truth be told, I could easily have continued on the war path and turned this into a battle of epic proportions; but I didn’t. This time…I just…let it go and moved on.

What changed? Why was I able to do this now when I spent years and years and years being…mad? Well, to be perfectly honest, it comes down to a little thing called my “ego.” (Ouch.) Uh-huh, I spent my life fighting to the death over ridiculously insignificant things because of my E-G-O.

Alright, I realize that this might sound a bit absurd to you, and you might be wondering just how I could make a federal offense out of trash (but that is only because YOU were not there; YOU were not enmeshed in my moment, and YOU do not know how frustrated I was to have to defend my decision to put a freaking bottle in a freaking trashcan.) Got that? Silly, really, but admit it — you have found yourself in a similar situation and gotten all worked up over something equally trivial. You know you have.

Don’t believe me? Let me jog your memory…

Ever found yourself asking:

  • Is it *really* that hard to put the roll of toilet paper on so that paper faces out, instead of in?
  • Can’t you *just* turn the “clean/dirty” magnet to the right position on the dishwasher so I know those dishes aren’t clean?
  • Is it *that* big a problem to just refill the soap dispenser…?
  • Can’t you JUST hang my Victoria’s Secret bras, rather than drying them in the hot dryer with your socks? (I might have gotten worked up over this one. Once or twice…)

Did anything up there ring a bell for you? No? Okay, think about it for a minute; I’ll wait…

V
V
V
V
V

Do you have some examples now? Great! So, here’s my question: Why. Does. IT. Matter? Why does it matter if you overreact to silly things that you swear are more important than they are? Where’s the harm? Well, I contend it matters because when we allow unimportant things to overshadow our reason, we allow distractions to overshadow our recovery.

Let me say that again:
When we allow unimportant things to overshadow our reason, we allow distractions to overshadow our recovery.

Said differently:
When we make unimportant stuff seem important,
we make important stuff seem unimportant
until it becomes impossibly-important.

Still confused? (Stay with me) I say, it’s pretty hard to be calm when you’re a raw nerve just waiting for a place to overreact. Don’t you think? And it’s pretty hard to be rational when you’re feeling irrational. Right? Wrong? Don’t know?

How about if I frame this in a (seemingly) innocent way? Ever spent an hour on Facebook? Ever seen any drama? Ever found yourself saying, “What is the big, fricken’ deal?” I mean, just scan the status updates and you’d swear we were mere moments away from the Apocalypse. Yup. Catastrophic-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it sorta drama.

Stuff like:

  • My husband left the toilet seat up! (It’s the end of the world!)
  • I got a bad haircut and I’m convinced my stylist did it on purpose! (My life is over!)
  • I lost my phone charger! (There is no reason to even think about tomorrow!)
  • Someone misspelled my name! (I am struggling for my next breath.)
  • Someone said I took the easy way out by having weight loss surgery! (People are just evil…I can’t go on.)
  • My football team lost (I’m gonna go eat a brownie!)

Ooh, ouch, I have a feeling one of those hit the aforementioned raw nerve…but that’s what happens when we allow drama to rule the day. That’s what happens when we elevate everything to “code red.” Well, at least it is for a great many of us. You see, when we feel out of control and angry, many of us decide to EAT…We decide that situations are unmanageable so we can *manage* them by eating Oreo cookies, or french fries…or drinking (and I don’t mean protein shakes.) The point is, when we allow trivial matters to become overly significant, many of us turn to our familiar go-to behaviors for solace and relief…yet…solace and relief are the very things we don’t find. The net result is, not only have we NOT solved the problem, we feel “guilty” for eating Zingers, AND are STILL worked up over the drama that started the whole thing!

Wow. Self-defeating behavior at its finest. Sounds a lot like sabotage to me…

Want another way of looking at is this? When we make mountains out of molehills, we quickly learn that the view from the top isn’t so great. (I’m talking about that little mound you created when someone  said you looked too skinny and you tried to convince everyone this was a brazen act of war.) Don’t get mad at me. I didn’t say that to you…

But here’s the thing — WE HAVE THE POWER TO MANAGE OUR EMOTIONS — I’m not saying we don’t involuntarily REACT and FEEL things — I’m saying we can choose how we ultimately respond — even if we’ve already reacted with a dramatic performance worthy of an Academy Award. You’d be amazed how powerful the words, “I’m sorry I overreacted” can be. Of course, most of the time, we believe we are completely justified in our reactions, so it makes saying something like that twice as hard. I mean, people “just don’t understand,” or, “they can’t possibly comprehend” the immensity of the event that has befallen us! (Right?)

The real question is: WHY are we catastrophizing, awfulizing, and giganticizing all that drama in our lives? Could it be so we DON’T have to deal with the stuff that REALLY matters? Could it be that if we’re constantly trying to cope with manufactured stuff, we won’t have to face the genuinely important stuff…like our weight…our health…our relationships…ourselves? It certainly seems plausible. At least, that’s what I’ve learned in therapy…

Whether you think you do it or you think you don’t do it…YOU DO IT — and there’s hope. See, I have this process I use when I feel myself venturing into Dramaville. When I feel like I’m going to blast-off (like, when someone has the audacity to park *their* car in *my* spot), I walk myself through this series of questions:

  1. Does it really matter?
  2. To whom? Just me? Someone else? A lot of others…?
  3. Do I need to do anything about it?
  4. What would happen if I DIDN’T do something?
  5. What would happen if I DID do something?
  6. Will it matter tomorrow? Next week? Next year? In 10 years?
  7. Why do I believe it matters so much?
  8. Am I ignoring something else?
  9. In the grand scheme of things, will anyone be hurt if I just move on?
  10. Is this the best use of my energy?
  11. Does it really matter? (Notice how we ended where we started?)

Next time, you try it. But, be aware, when you first begin working through this process, the answer to these questions might be, “yes, this is a good use of my energy because I am upset about something extremely important that will impact my life in a negative way…FOREVER” and that’s okay; it’s precisely why this exercise matters. In practicing this method myself, I’ve learned that a great deal of what I always believed was significant, really…wasn’t. The stuff I thought mattered…really didn’t. Mostly, being a drama queen just gave me excuses to eat my frustration away.

Know what? By asking myself this simple series of questions, I have allowed recovery from obesity to become a very real part of my life. I’ve learned that it’s darn-near-impossible to be in recovery if I’m always trying to deal with the hard stuff by throwing food at it (and if everything is hard stuff, then I’m gonna be throwing a LOT OF FOOD around…mostly into my mouth.) So, doesn’t it just make sense to eliminate drama for drama’s-sake?

Wouldn’t life be…simpler if life were…simpler?

Just for today, I encourage you to try having this conversation with yourself. Next time you feel that familiar anger welling up inside you — and you’re one finger away from Facebooking the world about it – DON’T. Instead, walk yourself though the questions above, and see what happens.

Chances are, NOTHING will happen if you don’t tell the world. The world will continue to rotate on its axis and the sun will continue to be the center of our solar system and, oh yeah, you might not eat about it!

Just for today…eliminate the drama. You’ll be glad you did.

August 28, 2012   8 Comments

Survivor’s Guilt & That TV Show

Have you ever watched INTERVENTION on A&E? It’s a program where addicts, who are (ostensibly) unaware that they will soon be facing an intervention with their family and loved ones, are given the chance to go to inpatient rehabilitation to learn how to treat their disease. The ultimate goal is for the addict and loved ones to enter recovery together, but that doesn’t always happen. In the majority of episodes, the family doesn’t go to treatment themselves, even when they are offered a chance to attend the Betty Ford Clinic. Of course, this decision doesn’t help the addict, who often returns from their 90-day program to the same, unhealthy system they left.

As a viewer, it’s incredibly frustrating.
As a food addict, it’s downright frightening.

I don’t know about you, but when I watch that show, it all seems so clear…and so easy. I mean, you watch the addict and you think, “STOP THAT. JUST STOP IT.” And then you watch the family, and you think, “STOP THAT. JUST STOP IT.”

Meanwhile, the addict continues to abuse the substance while the family continues to enable the addict to do so, and the whole thing just makes you throw your hands up and yell, “WHY CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT I SEE???”

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve sat there (MexiKen, Hannah and I), talking to the television. We say things as if the people on the show can actually hear us: “C’mon! How could you possibly think you’re not an addict? Look at yourself! You need help! You can get better! Just say ‘Yes.’” And then we talk to the enablers, and say, “Can’t you see what you’re doing? Isn’t it obvious? You’re not helping! You’re part of the problem! Stop that!”

And then, at the end of the show, we learn whether the addict chooses rehab or not, and…we cry. We hear that music, and we just cry, because we hope that they will make it. Now, since we have a DVR, we always pause to take a round robin of everyone on the couch.

“So…did they make it, or not? What do you think?”

So often, we are wrong. And that’s great – as long as we thought they didn’t make it and learn that they did. It’s those times where we absolutely thought they’d make it, but learn that they didn’t…those are the times that make us really sad.

You know…it’s those words that scroll across the screen at the end of the show…with the sad music. “Jane left recovery after 15 days and has begun using again.” Or, “John was asked to leave the program after 29-days. He has returned to life on the streets. His mom continues to pay his cell phone bill.” Ugh.

It is tragic and frustrating to watch, because IT SEEMS SO EASY ON TV.

But then…I think about my own life. I think about the challenges of being in recovery from obesity. I think about my food addiction, and I realize that I will fight my disease for the rest of my life. I hope it will become easier over time, but for now, it is a daily job, just to stay in recovery…to stay on track.

I know that my own family and friends are willing me to succeed; silently yelling at me like we yell at the TV: “C’mon, Cari! You can do this! Just don’t eat too much of that, work out over here, stay on track, you look great!”

And, you know what? I don’t disagree. I CAN do this. I AM worth it. I DO look (and feel) great. However, it’s not that easy, as anyone who shares my struggle will affirm. There is a huge community of people who battle the same demons. Some battle obesity; others battle both obesity and addiction; most have chosen to treat their obesity through surgery, but many choose to ignore their addiction…

Why? Why not complete the treatment? Why not FIX the problem, instead of ignoring it??? Do they think that since no one can “see” their disease anymore, they don’t have to worry about anything else? I can’t say for sure, and won’t venture to guess, but I know this: Sometimes, I have Survivor’s Guilt.

Just the other night, I was having a conversation about this with my business partner (Dr. Connie Stapleton). I told her that, I think the weight loss surgery community is cyclical, like the Lion King and the Circle Of Life. With each passing year, I see people disappear…evaporate…leave the community. The old king goes away to die. BUT, I see others join (a new baby is born!)
And everything is okay. For awhile.

People lose weight.
People regain weight.
People maintain weight.
People re-lose what they regain.
People develop addictions.
People get sick.
People leave.

It feels like…INTERVENTION. I’m watching that show, and I’m screaming at my computer when someone doesn’t “make it.” I’m screaming that they can do it…not to give up…to be strong. I’m thinking…that could be me – There’s a reason, in recovery circles, they say, “There, but for the Grace of God go I.” There’s a reason they say “Easy does it,” and “One day at a time.”

It’s too hard to think 90-days down the road.
Heck, it’s too hard to think about tomorrow.

But, that Survivor’s Guilt. That’s how it feels to be the lone survivor in a plane crash. Obesity is my plane crash…it’s devastating and deadly. I look to the left, and I look to the right, and I think to myself, “That could have been me. If I’d done X, I’d have set the wheels in motion to regain my weight. If I’d done Y, I’d have jump-started my food addiction…” And then, of course, I realize this is not healthy thinking, so I set it aside in favor of better throughts. I think about what I’m doing well. I think about how grateful I am that I have stayed the course (for today) and am working my program; trusting the process. I am thankful for my growth and the peace that comes with it.

But, that doesn’t stop my heart from aching for those whom I know are suffering and feeling like failures. I realize that our community is a lot like…well…just about any other community. Whether it’s an AA meeting, with people coming and going, newly recovered, and newly relapsed…or a circle of friends who are newly married, newly divorced, newly single – whatever. People make choices, things happen, and we do our best to survive and thrive.

I know that I can’t change what other people do with their lives, and I know I can’t make them think the way I think, but that doesn’t stop me from WANTING to.

I think my message for today is this: We must never lose hope for ourselves, and others who are on this journey. We must always believe that recovery is not only possible, it’s happening – all around us. I know, I know…I used the “must” word…BUT, I feel strongly about this, so that’s why I’m saying it.

It’s like the 80’s band, Journey said: Don’t Stop Believin’.

I’ll leave you with this: If you’ve relapsed in your Bariatric After Life€, consider this your personal intervention. It’s never too late to do the next best thing. Happy Recovery, guys…

June 29, 2012   4 Comments